Airlines must now report the number of wheelchairs and mobility scooters transported and mishandled each month, with that data being released through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Reports. The August 2019 ATCR contains data from the entire first half of 2019 (January-June). previously reported that more than 2,000 wheelchairs had been mishandled in the first three months of the year. In the second quarter, airlines damaged nearly 35% more wheelchairs, for a total of 2,744. The year-to-date fallout has been 4,777 instances of a passenger being inconvenienced by the delay, loss, damage or destruction of their most critical piece of mobility equipment.

The quarterly report has been reproduced below and is available in PDF form by clicking here (see page 42).

Data on mishandled wheelchairs from the DOT's August 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.
Data on mishandled wheelchairs from the DOT’s August 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.

We must not lose sight of the fact that mishandled wheelchairs have the potential to disrupt passengers’ life in significant ways. Behind each damaged mobility device is a person whom one or more air carriers have burdened without compensation. Any further restriction of a disabled person’s mobility can lead to lost time, wages and opportunities—as well as significant health risks—that are not reported in this data.

There was some positive news in this report, however. The likelihood of wheelchair damage decreased overall, from 1.82 percent in the first quarter to 1.62 percent in the first half of the year. American Airlines continues to be the worst airline for wheelchair users, and is responsible for more than 25% of all wheelchairs damaged or mishandled by airlines this year.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the following chart, which includes data on the more than 236 million pieces of luggage carried by airlines this year.

Data on mishandled baggage from the DOT's August 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.
Data on mishandled baggage from the DOT’s August 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report.

Across all carriers for which data was reported, approximately six-tenths of one percent of checked luggage was mishandled in the first quarter. In the same period, the industry damaged wheelchairs and scooters almost 3 times more frequently. That airlines treat the most expensive cargo (wheelchairs costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars) with less care than a $50 bag seems absurd, but that’s what the data shows.

The carrier that damaged the largest number of wheelchairs and at the greatest frequency since reporting began, American Airlines, also mishandled checked luggage at a rate 48% higher than the industry average.

In case you missed it, here’s a video of my wheelchair being mishandled by American Airlines earlier this year. When mobility devices are treated like mine was, it’s no surprise they are damaging more wheelchairs and scooters than any other airline.

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